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Looking at the "Big Picture" (not just the Turkey) when Celebrating Thanksgiving with Foster Children

thanksgiving-2020-blog-photo

Food, family, and fun are three words that often come to mind during holidays. This holiday Thanksgiving will look different as we celebrate in a "new normal" and the COVID-19 pandemic. As we navigate what those changes will look like for our family, it is essential to remind ourselves of the potential impact those three words – food, family, and fun - can have on our foster children.

Food.

That word alone evokes images of a cornucopia (literally!) of bounty: turkey with all the trimmings, side dishes galore, pies, and the age-old debate of whether apple or pumpkin is better. Preparing food with your family can be a fantastic way to build connections with your foster child, as well as teach life skills.

Some foster children may also come to us with underlying food insecurities and even eating disorders. The food, smells, and anticipation of Thanksgiving could be overwhelming and triggering for them. Perhaps they have never celebrated Thanksgiving before or have never seen so much food at one meal.

Food tips for you and your foster child this Thanksgiving:

Communicate: Talk about what it will be like, and ask about their experiences (if they are willing to share).

Participate: Having your foster child "taste-test" a dish from a spoon you offer is a subtle way to build attachment.

Modify: Incorporating their favourite food or suggestion into the meal – even when it may seem out of place - speaks volumes to a foster child regarding your acceptance of them.

Bring in Culture and Traditions: Is there a cultural dish representative of your child or a tradition that they love, which you can include? For example, try serving bannock if your foster child is Indigenous rather than traditional rolls!

Adapt. By understanding a foster child's feelings and behaviours at Thanksgiving, you can adapt accordingly. For example, they may overeat (beyond Thanksgiving indulgence) out of an innate need to "eat while they can" if that hasn't been their past reality. Reassure them that there will be leftovers and consider putting aside extra food for the next day specifically for them before you sit down as added reassurance.

Family.

The word family can invoke big emotions in foster children, even in the littlest ones. Be prepared to walk through their feelings: tears, withdrawing, and acting out are just some examples of what you may see. Children cannot always verbalize what they are feeling. Remind yourself that behaviours are a symptom of something bigger as they are likely processing their loss and grief. Do not take it personally.

Family tips for you and your foster child this Thanksgiving:

Involve their Bio Family: Your foster child may or may not be able to have bio family visits right now for various reasons. Help your foster child with a homemade craft to give to their biological family now or later on. Quick google searches can bring up easy ideas!

Prepare to Deal with Extended Relatives. If you have family participating in your Thanksgiving – whether online or in-person with physical distancing – be prepared to answer questions from relatives who could be less-than tactful. Remember that your foster child's story is theirs to tell, not yours. Little ears are listening, and how you answer can be pivotal to gaining your child's trust and giving them a sense of belonging.

Fun.

Yes, please! Holidays remind us as foster parents not to get so caught up in the preparation that we forget to enjoy and have fun! Tamper your expectations, though; your child may only be able to take small doses of the celebration. Whether it is the sheer magnitude of the holiday or a child who struggles with sensory processing, understand that they may need to step away for some quiet time. That is okay.

Fun tips for you and your foster child this Thanksgiving:

  • Plan. Tell your foster child that they can plan to take "mini-breaks" throughout the festivities. Check-in with them and let them know they can come back to join the family when they are ready.
  • Take care of Yourself. With the added layer of adjustments needed with COVID-19, Thanksgiving preparations can become all-consuming! We need to be mindful of our own mental health, not only the mental health of those entrusted to our care. Take a moment for yourself. Breathe. These are unprecedented times!

Remind yourself that it is not uncommon for a foster child's feelings and behaviours to increase during holidays, regardless if they arrived yesterday or have been with you for years. Put your turkey-eating pants on, enjoy that piece (or two) of pie, be creative with family time, and have fun while permitting yourself to tone celebrations down if that is what is needed. Keep in mind the big picture for our kids – not just the turkey this Thanksgiving.

For more fostering support and resources, check out our website at fostercalgary.com.

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